At the evening meal, Tarra surprised everyone by wearing her sun hood. At first, she tried to hide her hands in the long sleeves, but then she decided it was of no avail, and proudly flaunted the discoloration of her hands. She accentuated the blaze across her face by wearing the hood open at the neck with her hair deliberately tousled around her face. Everyone had seen shaman with painted faces and hands from time-to-time, but it was usually for a festival or some special occasion. To have the young witch appear this way stunned the children. They were sure she had just murdered one of their friends and was out looking for more blood.
After the meal, a small group of children hovered around her, curious to see if she was going to do anything else. She finished her meal and proceeded to walk slowly through the crowd to the main platform. She pulled the carefully crafted medicine cloth from under her cape, rolled it out on the stage, and began an evocative chant. She accentuated certain verses by casting incense into the dwindling ashes in a shower of sparks and smoke that soon had everyone’s attention.
When she finished her song, she opened her eyes and gazed onto the crowd. “YodHeaVau has spoken to me.” She gestured at the cloth spread on the platform. “He has spoken of the old ways of the Shanare and the Sky Temple. He has brought us here, to this place, to help us learn.”
Someone from the crowd scoffed. “Are you telling me that you’ve spoke with God? Not even Tangar made such outlandish claims and you’re only a girl, not a real shaman.”
“You’re correct; I’m not a shaman as my father was. I am the ’Keeper of the Word’. I’ve been entrusted by the elders to bring the word to the people and this is the word.” She gestured again at the cloth.
Another voice joined the rumble of dissension. “Somebody go get Chilcoat and tell him that his consort is trying to take his job.”
“I’m no one’s consort! I speak only for my ancestors and myself. I’ve been given this burden without choice and I intend to carry it out with, or without, the support of Chilcoat or any of you so-called leaders.”
“What do you know that your father didn’t? Why didn’t he bring us this message?”
“He did. He’s the one who’s led us here and he now whispers the will of Yod to me.”
“Oh, great, the witch is talking to the dead now. That’s all we need, no wonder Hea is punishing us so.”
““No one speaks with the dead! I speak only with Yod, the spirit within us all, the spirit of my father, and his father before him. That spirit has spoken to me He has told me that Hea isn’t punishing us. He’s cleansing the weak and foolish from His flock. When He’s done, we’ll be born into a new world of stronger, wiser, people who have learned the ways of God.”
“And only you, a child, have this wisdom? That’s just great.” The exasperated crowd began to disperse.
“I don’t expect all of you to listen to me. I can’t teach any that don’t want to learn. I’m only to bring the word. It’s up to you to learn what you will. If YodHeaVau finds favor in that, perhaps He will spare you. If He doesn’t, you will follow your ancestors to death and never know the light of God. It’s up to you.”
“You’ve been drinking more of that spirit juice haven’t you? It’s all a bunch of mumbo-jumbo you and those freeloading shaman have cooked up to fleece us out of our earnings. Let me guess, you want us to bring a share of our crops and give it to you, so you can spend all of your time on the ‘nobility’ of teaching us your wisdom.”
Chilcoat approached from his shop. “That will be enough of that! No one will go idle. She’ll work just like the rest of us. If you don’t earn your keep, we’ll cast you out of the clan to fend for yourself. We can’t support an elite class and neither scholar, nor politician, nor priest is above earning his, or her, own keep.”
“What about all her talk of God’s word? Are we to listen to her?”
“That’s between you and God. I can’t tell you what to believe. All I can tell you is that she’s divined many things for us. She has helped to bring us to this place. Without her, we wouldn’t be here today. We would still be back at the lake starving, but I don’t know how she does it. If it’s talking with God or simply her good fortune, all I know is that I want to believe, and that’s good enough for me.”
He looked warmly at the young woman and the cloth she had spread on the platform. He slowly opened his clenched fist and exposed the little wooden figurine to her then placed it slowly on the cloth deep in one of the outer circles.
Tarra looked solemnly at his gesture. “Yod has spoken with you. You see, this place truly is a temple. Anyone who will listen will hear His voice.”
“Tarra child, I know you feel this way, but I, and others, must grow to it. I know that you feel things I don’t, but faith is something that has to come because you’ve looked for it. Some people will come to it and some won’t.”
“They’ll come. It’s you that I am worried about.”
“Am I so corrupt?”
“You’re our leader. It’s important that you believe.”
“I’ll come to it when—when I know that you...” He couldn’t find the words to accuse her of poisoning his wife, but he couldn’t get the thought out of his head. He needed some reason, some excuse, some answer to why God took Caran from him.
“Yod will answer your doubts, not I.”
She turned her attention to a couple of young people that had gathered to look at the cloth. She explained the circles and the shapes and gestured at the garden above. She moved the little figurine Chilcoat had left to where the chimney stone would be and explained the path names she had learned. The small audience slipped away as she tried to explain some of the more cryptic details of the Shanare and their worship using the symbol. Her bright red fingers wrapped around the cloth like the claw of some demon as she grabbed the treasure and left the plaza in quiet dignity.
There was much whispering and prodding as the crews formed up for their evening labor. Tarra joined the others and tended her sections of the garden just as before. Some people passed by during the night and nodded respectfully while others scoffed at her attempt at normalcy. A couple of the youngsters she had spoken with earlier stopped by nervously to confess that they wanted to hear more.
“Come to my house after work, we’ll talk.”
The session adjourned when one of the women got up and left suddenly. Tarra asked her to explain the placement of her icon and she just looked terrified at the concept. Everyone looked at each other for assurance and uncomfortably followed her out the door.
Tarra looked disappointedly at the little figurine she had used to orient the lecture. Maybe I was too detailed for them. I’ll have to consider another approach. She spent the rest of the morning whittling a new guide stick that chronicled the path they had blazed back to the gathering.
The winter sky afforded little relief from the relentless rays of the sun. It dipped lower on the horizon but seemed even harsher in its punishment. The air grew cooler as the days shortened, but the cloudless sky provided no relief. Everyone continued their nocturnal ways with only brief excursions into the daylight cloaked in sheets.
She was beginning to show signs of her pregnancy. The robes hid her from public view, but she knew she was going to have to face up to it soon. She was happy that she and Shadoc had this special bond, but she wasn’t sure how the others would take it.
“I’m pregnant,” Tarra spoke plainly to Chilcoat as they sat quietly at her table. “Vau has smiled on Shadoc and me, and we’re happy.”
He finally spoke after the shock wore off. “How will he provide for you? Are you to leave us?”
“No, we know we can’t be together and I’ll provide for myself.”
“You’re a fool to think that you can bring a child into this world alone. The women will talk. They’ll call you a harlot and no self-respecting man will have you. Do you know that? Do you know that the child will forever be a burden on the clan? He’ll be an outcast.”
“He’ll be the savior of our people. It’s written in the scrolls…”
“Don’t you dare blame this on that rubbish! This is your fault and no one else’s. You should know better than to have sex with some boy just because you read something in a fairytale. Didn’t your father ever tell you that boys only want one thing and then they’ll leave you to fend for yourself?”
“My father was your father too! He took in a boy that was left to fend for himself when his parents were killed. He wasn’t afraid of women’s gossip. He raised him to be the leader of our clan and to follow the word of YodHeaVau. He saw you in the scrolls just as he saw me and my baby.”
“You twist my words. I’m worried that you and the child will be hated by those who are hungry and feel you’ll burden them in these times of want.”
“Will you hate us?”
“What do your scrolls tell you of that? Do they tell you of Caran and how I loved her and how you—took her from me?”
“The scrolls tell of our lives and how they intertwine. I know you blame me for the loss of Caran but I can’t do anything about that. I can’t replace her and I don’t want to, but the scrolls speak of a long and fruitful bond between us.”
“The scrolls—is that all I am to you, a fairytale to be played out at my expense?”
“No… I’ll be your consort. Not only am I a witch, I’m a harlot, and the old women will claim the child is yours.”
“The old women be-damned.” His mind searched for a way to resolve his conflict. He was responsible for all that had happened. “I listened to you when I shouldn’t have, and now I have nothing. My wife is gone, my tribe is divided, and I’m no longer able to hunt like a man.”
He sat gazing around the room as if it could somehow provide an answer. “I’ll claim the child as my own and raise him as my son to save you from their wicked tongues. I’ll lie to the world for you because—because I love you.” He grabbed her by the arms and held her tight. “But I must know; did you poison Caran?”
She looked coldly into his eyes. “Will you believe me if I say no?”
“I want to believe you. I want—I want you.” He pulled her close.“You want me to make your life full again. I can’t do that. If you’ll take my son as your own, I’ll be your consort as foretold, but Caran will always be between us.”